Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – No. 1 Canadian General Hospital, Étaples, France

Étaples, a port town south of Boulogne, served as an Allied training base, supply depot, prisoner detention centre, and “Hospital City” during WW1. The next step for wounded soldiers who survived the casualty clearing stations and the stationary hospitals closer to the front could be one of the 16 hospitals or the convalescent depot at Étaples.

In the spring and summer of 1918, several German bombing raids on the Étaples area made their mark. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – No 3 Canadian Stationary Hospital, Doullens, France

In May 1918, No 3 Canadian Stationary Hospital was operating in an old citadel near Doullens, France. On the night of 29-30 May, the hospital was bombed by a German plane, hitting the main building over the operating theatre and one of the wards.

Two surgeons, three nursing sisters, 16 other ranks (including orderlies) and 11 patients were killed. Several others were injured. The operating staff and patients were buried in the ruins of the building. Other staff worked to save the other patients. Continue reading


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An Interview with Andrea McKenzie, editor of War-Torn Exchanges

Andrea McKenzie brings two WW1 nurses and friends back together in War-Torn Exchanges: The Lives and Letters of Nursing Sisters Laura Holland and Mildred Forbes. Her deft editing and annotations make the book an insightful contribution to understanding the role of nurses in the war. I am so pleased that Andrea has joined me today, to share some thoughts about her work.

What first interested you in Mildred Forbes and Laura Holland?

Andrea McKenzie: I’d been working on Canadian nurses’ First World War diaries and letters for some years, but I’d never come across the letters of two best friends who’d sailed for the war on the same, stayed together throughout four long war years, then sailed home together. Separately, Laura’s and Mildred’s vivid accounts of their individual wars are compelling, but read together, they create a richly textured narrative told by two strong, mature women’s voices. What one omits, the other includes, so we gain a complete story of their time throughout the First World War. They served on almost all the war fronts, too, so their story, told in their own words, runs from the privations of Gallipoli to a casualty clearing station on the Western front during Passchendaele and the German advance of 1918. Continue reading


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War-Torn Exchanges and Your Daughter Fanny

Continuing my explorations of women in the medical services, in War-Torn Exchanges: The Lives and Letters of Nursing Sisters Laura Holland and Mildred Forbes, and Your Daughter Fanny: The War Letters of Frances Cluett, VAD. Both books bring to life women’s war service close to the front. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Nursing Sister Edith May Allison, Deseronto, ON

Each nurse tells a story.

Edith May Allison was born in Marysville, Ontario on May 14, 1881, the daughter of Sarah Edith Prentice Allison (spelled Prentiss in some records) and Jonathan Greeley Allison. She had four sisters, Olive, Pearl, Helena (Lena) and Florence (Flossie). 

Edith and Florence both became nurses. Around 1912, the family moved to Calgary. Olive may not have moved with them. In city directories (not always an up-to-date source) Pearl is listed as a teacher, Lena as a stenographer; both seem to have moved from the family home before the war. Their father died in 1915, their mother in 1937. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Memorial Window, McGill University, Montreal

A stained glass window in the Redpath Library at McGill University is “in memory of 23 members of the McGill chapter of Delta Upsilon who gave their lives in the Great War.” Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Beatrice Lennie Sculptures, Shaughnessy Hospital, Vancouver

Two friezes by British Columbia sculptor Beatrice Lennie flank the main entrance of the former Shaughnessy Military Hospital, at 4500 Oak Street in Vancouver.

The carved stone panels are about five by eight feet. The left panel shows a nurse helping an injured soldier, with the crest of the Canadian Medical Corps at the bottom. The right panel shows a doctor holding a wounded soldier, over the Latin phrase “on sibi sed omnibus” – not for oneself but for all. The upper corner ornamentation, sunbeams and clouds suit the streamlined art moderne style of the 1940s building. Lennie signed each panel on the bottom right corner. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Margaret Macdonald, Bailey’s Brook, NS

Major Margaret C. Macdonald was appointed Matron-in-Chief of the Canadian Nursing Service in April 1914, making her the first woman with the rank of major in the British Empire. She was responsible for over 1900 Canadian nurses serving overseas during WW1. She returned to Canada in 1919 to help reorganize the Canadian Army Medical Corps. In 1926, she unveiled the Nursing Sisters Memorial* on Parliament Hill. Continue reading


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An Interview with “Those Splendid Girls” author, Katherine Dewar

I am pleased to welcome a special guest to Great War 100 Reads today. Katherine Dewar, author of Those Splendid Girls: The Heroic Service of Prince Edward Island Nurses in the Great War, has kindly agreed to share some thoughts about her work.

What was the biggest challenge in researching Those Splendid Girls?

Katherine Dewar: Researching is so much fun. Like a good mystery, the challenges are there to be solved. I spent about three years researching. Most mornings I could hardly wait to get started to see what piece of the puzzle I might unearth that day. I was blessed in several ways. Living on a small island where many family roots go back to the first settlement, and having done genealogy, I was aware that certain surnames were associated with particular communities. I would check the phone book in the community where a nurse might be from and call someone with the same surname. If I had a wrong person they usually knew who the right one might be. In one case I was looking for a picture; the lady on the phone was hesitant to give me information until she established my genealogical roots. After a brief conversation she realized that my father grew up a few miles from her; as a nurse, she knew my uncle who was a doctor; and her husband had worked with my cousin. The information was then forthcoming. She gave me the phone number of a lady in Boston who had a picture. The lady in Boston was delighted that someone on Prince Edward Island (PEI) was doing research on her relative. She emailed me information and a picture within the hour. Thus are the benefits of doing research on PEI. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Rena McLean Veterans Garden, Charlottetown, PEI

My travels have not taken me to Prince Edward Island since starting this project, so I was pleased to accept Katherine Dewar’s offer of some of her photos of the Rena McLean Veterans Garden in Charlottetown.

Rena McLean is one of the nursing sisters featured in Katherine’s book, Those Splendid Girls. She joined the Canadian Army Medical Corps in 1914 and served with distinction in several venues. She was assigned to the hospital ship Llandovery Castle in March 1918. The ship was torpedoed on 27 June and 234 doctors, nurses and patients perished. Continue reading